Friday, January 3, 2014

Kyoto Kitcho Kunio Tokuoka

Talking about traditional kaiseki restaurant in Japan, one cannot help but to mention the name Kitcho (literally means Good Omen). It was founded by a legendary chef Teichi Yuki in 1930 with the oldest branch located in Koraibashi, Osaka. However, among all of Kitcho establishments, the most famous and arguably the current best one is Kyoto Kitcho, in the Arashiyama district near the gorgeous Ooigawa river. Kunio Tokuoka, the grandson of Kitcho founder, is a very capable and talented chef who currently owns and runs the flagship restaurant of Arashiyama Kitcho as well as the other Kitcho restaurants in Toyako and Nagoya. In the middle of November this year, my wife and I were fortunate to have the opportunity to have lunch at Kyoto Kitcho honten. Prior to our meal, we came early to enjoy the beautiful scenery of Arashiyama in the Fall with its red, orange and yellow color momiji (Japanese maples). It was a busy weekend with a nice sunny weather. After more than 20 min. walk from Keifuku Arashiyama station, we eventually reached the rustic gate with gravel path entrance of the luxury Kitcho restaurant.

As my wife and I entered the restaurant, we were greeted by a young man who watered the front garden (later we learned that he's actually Chef Tokuoka's son). Then, a friendly kimono-clad lady led us to our private room in the 2nd floor without any private garden. We're given a welcome drink and hot towel. A few minutes later, a lady came and apologized that our tatami room was supposedly at the first floor. I don't mind this "mistake" since the new room was actually a lot bigger (can comfortably sit 6 guests altogether) and it has an attractive Japanese garden. The room was spacious with a calm and peaceful atmosphere. Having a meal at Kitcho was designed in such a way that we would not see or hear other guests' presence; as if we're the only diners in the entire ryotei. After taking off our coats and receiving another towel, our room attendant soon brought and put the 1st course of our meal on the black lacquer table. The lunch journey at this fine Japanese restaurant just started and below is the full menu.

The Appetizer (Shiizakana): Steamed chicken served with persimmon and vegetables with vinegar jelly; Salted and dried mollet roe with turnip - The yasai (carrot, cucumber) was refreshing and crunchy, more dominant than the chicken; whereas the karasumi was of high quality as expected

The Soup (Suimono): Clear soup of Snow crab - The soup was clean and delicate; the Zuwai-gani was tender and sweet; the grilled tofu was silky and smooth. Half way savoring this owan, it's recommended to enjoy it altogether with the nori. A tasty dish though not in the level of Matsukawa's soup (crab + matsutake)

The 1st Sashimi (Mukouzuke): Kelp grouper - The sakana was served with Iwatake mushroom, ponzu (light & pleasant) and liver (rich & intense) sauce. The first time I eat this kind of white fish. The Kue has high quality flesh with sophisticated flavor. It worked well with either sauce 

The 2nd Sashimi (Mukouzuke): Seared Japanese lobster and squid - The seafood was served with shio, sesame and dashi soy sauce. The Ise ebi was perfectly cooked and succulent while the Ika was tender (not rubbery at all). Another great sashimi dish

The Side Dish (Kuchitori): Snow crab - The Zuwai-gani's meat and kani miso was umami and of excellent quality. We had the option to heat up the crab on top of a ceramic cooking pot (containing burning charcoal) to make the crab's flesh tasted sweeter. The strong flavor of kani's 'brain' was nicely balanced out with the yuzu sauce

The Assorted Delicacies (Hassun) presentation - An appetizer platter commemorating and celebrating the (Autumn) season. It consists of: Boiled Cod's milt with vinegar jelly, Filed caviar mixed with abalone, Shrimp with moromi miso, Stewed tongue of beef, Egg and fish cake, Deep-fried gingko nuts and Salmon roe
There were 7 different kinds of food from the mountains and the sea: The Ikura was of stunning quality, Shirako with jelly and veggie was very good, The beef tongue was smooth and delicious, gingko mochi was crunchy and bitter, the prawn was firm. The rests (fish cake & abalone) were just fine. An elegant display of the season's diversity in color, texture, flavor and smell

The Grilled food (Yakimono): Grilled Butterfish served with chestnut and deep-fried turnip - The flavorful and top quality Mana Katsuo was expertly seasoned and carefully grilled. The kabu tempura, gari, and prawn head provided interesting variation

The Steamed food (Mushimono): Simmered taro, carrot, Shiitake mushroom and kujyo leek - The leek and shiitake were my favorites. The carrot and taro were rich & coarse but they well absorbed the acidic 'soup'

The Rice (Gohan) and Pickled vegetables (Tsukemono): Cooked rice (Koshihikari from Niigata) with Matsutake and grilled beef. The pickles, having different colors and textures, were turnip mixed with bonito flakes, Mibuna leaves mixed with sesame and Hinona turnip - The "matsutake broth rice" with glazed Kyoto beef was very impressive. I had a 2nd helping. In addition, we were also served a bowl of pure white rice; each grain was tasty. One of the best rice dish in kaiseki
  
The Dessert (Kudamono): Assorted fruit before plating served with "orange" sauce (a mixture of egg, sugar, milk and cream) - The ripeness of each fruit was amazing. I love all of them: a big and flavorful peeled grape, the musk melon was moist and sweet, the pear was crisp and sweet; the kaki was watery and tender. An awesome fruit dessert, each kind was probably the best I've ever encountered

The Sweet (Wagashi): Rice cake with adzuki bean jam in the shape of a boar - Soft and sweet 'mochi' to accompany the bitter and hot matcha

The classic cha-kaiseki meal at Kyoto Kitcho was indeed excellent. The dishes were faithfully following the rhythm of a season; they're perfectly executed based on high quality ingredients that were carefully sourced all over Japan. Kunio Tokuoka, the recipient of Japanese Medal of Honor with purple ribbon, believes that every dish coming from the kitchen has to have the following elements: artistic & elegant, smells good, representing Japanese tradition & culture, as well as delicious. Chef Tokuoka's food is dynamic and keeps evolving; sometimes he's not afraid to mix it with modern technique or even using non-Japanese ingredients. One thing worth mentioning was that a few of our dishes were presented on antique (several hundred years old) and expensive ceramics. I was very impressed later upon knowing that the amazing food had been prepared while Tokuoka-san himself was not present in the restaurant that day. Kudos to the restaurant's Chef de Cuisine.

Throughout our meal, we were served by a young lady, in kimodo-clad, who was incredibly courteous, professional, warm and helpful. She's also very knowledgeable about the dishes and quite entertaining; she shared plenty of things from stuffs in Kyoto to her own family. Despite Kitcho's luxurious atmosphere and 'formal' setting, she wanted to make sure that we would feel extremely comfortable all the time. The service was (pretty much) immaculate. If I had to be picky, one small issue would be the fact that the hostesses (Madame Tokuoka) did not visit our room during the meal. In the tradition of dining at refined ryotei, it's known that the Okami (either the Chef's wife or daughter) is required to greet her guests especially when the Chef-owner is not around. When I ate at Genyana Hamadaya a few years ago, we were served by the Okami's daughter most of the time. In the middle of the meal, Keiko Mita (the lady owner) visited and talked to us for several minutes as part of  Japanese tradition in any ryotei/ryokan. Anyway, I would not penalize our waitress' impeccable service due to such trivial matter. At the end, our room attendant, along with Madame Tokuoka and her son, escorted us out until we're out of the main gate. 

Kyoto Kitcho somewhat reminded me of Le Louis XV. I found Kunio Tokuoka-san and Monsieur Alain Ducasse have similar dining concept/philosophy. Both of them created restaurants that are THE place to experience "over-the-top spare-no-expense" gastronomy with respect to its own unique cuisine: the setting is luxurious, the tableware is the best money can buy, the service is faultless, the ingredients are top notch, and every dish is thoughtful, perfectly executed and extremely tasty. Additionally, both Tokuoka and Ducasse own multiple high end restaurants in different cities and countries respectively; they also hardly stay put in any single place for a long time - not even in their own flag ship restaurant. In short, Kitcho Arashiyama honten is exclusive and refined. It came with a (steep) price tag, but one would certainly experience fantastic and memorable culinary journey in his/her lifetime - at least my wife and I did. If the time and financial situation permit, I will love to return here in the future. For the pictures, please check the following link: Kitcho Arashiyama Autumn 2013
 
Food: 97 pts

Service: 95 pts

Overall: 96.5/100
   

1 comment:

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